Teresa Frith compares different visions for the future of apprenticeships.

The Husbands Review of apprenticeships is, at first glance, wife of the Richard Review.

It also takes what, by all measures, is a successful government-supported initiative and seeks to introduce radical change.

It would be a brave person who claimed there is nothing wrong with the current apprenticeship system.

But equally, it would be unfair to say that there are not quite a few babies in this particular bathwater.

It appears the Government and Her Majesty’s Opposition are united in their belief apprenticeships are very important, and in their desire for radical change.

The recommendation to call only programmes at level three and above apprenticeships clearly deals with the wish to seek parity with A-levels and higher study, as well as the need to have a system that compares favourably with our European neighbours.

As with the Richard recommendations, doesn’t this just further expand choice for the academically able?”

But, as with the Richard recommendations, doesn’t this just further expand choice for the academically able?

If at 16, a young person is capable of study at level three, they may well look more favourably on a route that takes them straight into employment.

But what of those who are aged 16 to 24 and not ready to study at this level? They will be unable to access an apprenticeship and need to take what could be perceived as an inferior route towards their goal. Will employers view these young people, who need extra time and support to become job-ready, as equally worthy of their efforts?

If we want to smarten up the apprenticeship brand, there needs to be a comprehensive, funded offer that ensures young people have a range of access routes that feed directly into the apprenticeship, without fear of additional stigma.

The development of employer-led bodies that genuinely represent the needs of businesses and young people across a sector would be a fantastic achievement for any administration.

Those of you who have been around a while can probably remember numerous attempts by past ministers to achieve this with limited degrees of success.

Husbands and Richard both agree on a key role for employers in the design of apprenticeships and giving them a strong say in funding.  The basic design would be undertaken by “sector employers” in both visions. Richard favours more “company-specific” input, but there is little to choose between them.

So what about the money? Again both agree that a significant shift is needed here.

Employers need to become embroiled in the funding process in the Richard vision; Husbands favours the employer-led institutions, or similar.

So we can create more than 150,000 funded bodies (Richard) or a bunch of sector-led mini-skills funding agencies, as suitable replacements for the existing single structure — well “single” if we just consider apprenticeship funding, all of which comes via the Skills Funding Agency.

If all £1.5bn is transferred from the existing system to support employers in either vision to deliver the beefed-up apprenticeships, I’m struggling to see how we will fund the level one and two provision that will be needed to help young people to progress to an apprenticeship.

Like the current apprenticeship system, there is much to be applauded in both the Husbands and Richard reviews and maybe, just maybe, we might get what we seek if we take some serious time to test and evaluate what is being suggested, recognise the need for partnership rather than control and try to keep our eyes on the prize, rather than the cash flow.

Teresa Frith, senior skills policy manager, Association of Colleges


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